The art is in the scale – or: how artists use the GPS as a critical tool
Last modified: 2011-01-25
Discussing mobile and locative media projects, media theorist Mary Flanagan (2007) calls for artists and designers to understand that they “must begin to reflect the contested nature of the lived reality of such spaces” (Flanagan 2007, 9). Dutch media artist Ester Polak does exactly this, when she employs GPS technologies to engage critically with spaces and their (implicit) politics by documenting, performing and representing their use.
Polak’s most recent project NomadicMILK (2008-) investigates the movements of humans, commodities and capital by tracking both nomadic herding of cows and transports of processed milk in Nigeria. The project thus maps the paths in the ‘shared workspace’ of lorry drivers and nomadic herdsmen as well as their different perspectives on this space. However, Polak’s strategy is to map the transports’ paths of movement in ways that makes it difficult to understand the scale and reach of the actual path travelled: in ‘exhibition mode’ in art galleries, all paths are represented in the same length regardless of distance. The same lack of scale and context is found in the online exhibition as well as in the printed artworks. We are able to read the individual stories but if we only look at the represented paths, they all look alike.
This puts focus on the abstract rather than the concrete and in this sense the project perhaps demonstrates that all spaces are generic or have generic features – after Dutch architect Koolhaas’ ‘generic city’ which is partly about all postmodern cities being alike and partly about capitalist patterns making every place accessible to generic goods.
The paper will present Polak’s work and discuss the strategies employed in NomadicMILK with respect to the way that the project discusses the poetics of this generic (milk) space through particular acts of movement.